Neuro Linguistic Programming

NLP or Nuero Linguistic Programming is a topic we use on many of our courses such as stress management, conflict management, people management and our popular new manager programme. Don’t be put off by the title if it sounds too theoretical or confusing, we all use elements of it in our lives to put meaning to everyday behaviours and actions.

To give you an example – have you ever considered your ‘love strategy’ i.e. the way in which we consider how we know we are loved by our partners, friends, and family members. Try this with a friend and discover aspects of their likes and dislikes that you probably never knew. Ask your friend if they were only able to pick one method that they needed to experience to know if a ‘significant other’ loves them. Would they know if their partner:

  1. Tells them that they love them
  2. Shows them that they love them, or
  3. Touches them in a specific way

Remind them that they can only pick one of the above. Their answer will mean more once you have read the rest of the article but for now, number one represents a preference for auditory signals, number two shows a visual preference and three a kinaesthetic response.

NLP and the art of communication

Not only is communication a crucial element of dealing with pressure, gaining support or talking through problems it can also be the source of pressure itself.

Nuero Linguistic Programming (NLP) helps us to step back and think about how we can best communicate to our own brains or most importantly, achieve effective communication with others. The concept of NLP was first developed by J. Grinder and C. Bandler and the following paragraphs provide opportunity for you to think about some its key aspects.

Our own behaviour and thinking is generated by internal responses to what we see and hear. In other words how we communicate to our brains. You can communicate, but you cannot guarantee that the other person understands the meaning you are trying to communicate. To be effective you have to go back to first principles:

“The meaning of the communication is the response that you get.”

Building Rapport

You may notice those in rapport tend to mirror and match each other in gesture, eye contact, posture. It is like a dance? The deeper the rapport, the closer the match.

Creating rapport builds a bridge between their model of the world and yours. You can match arm movements, but these do not have to mimic, just use small hand movements.

Matching breathing

This is a very powerful rapport skill and you may have observed that when two people are in deep unison they breathe together.

Notice when you’re doing this, then notice when not. Start to be conscious so that you can refine it, respond and repeat until sub-conscious. Notice especially when you mis-match. A most noticeable way is when some one stands up or walks away during a meeting or conversation.

Voice Matching

Voice matching is another way to gain rapport. You can match tonality, speed, volume, rhythm. You can use voice matching on the phone to gain rapport. Then you can also mismatch, changing the speed and the tone to end the conversation.

Pacing and Leading

Rapport establishes a bridge. When done you can start to change your behaviour and those you are communicating with are likely to follow. The most influential professionals are those who establish rapport and then lead. Pacing is establishing the bridge (rapport). Keeping your behaviour the same and expecting other people to understand is one choice. Sometimes it will yield good results and sometimes it will not. If you are prepared to change your behaviour to suit your outcome, you are bound to have more success.

Pacing is a general skill using common interests, friends, work or hobbies. When dealing with someone, a best choice would be first to mirror and match posture etc., then gradually adjust to a more positive, resourceful posture. This is a leading tool in counselling. You gain rapport by appreciating what people say. One simple way to start doing this is to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.

Representational Systems

When we think about what we see, hear and feel we recreate feelings inwardly.

We experience information in the sensory form in which we first perceived it, sometimes we are aware of doing this, sometimes not.

Q: Can you remember where you went on your last holiday?

How did you remember it? Maybe in terms of pictures, sounds or even how you felt.

Thinking is such an obvious common place activity we never give it a second thought! We rarely reflect on the thought process and assume others think in the same way.

Through the medium of language we can create, without having actually experienced it, internal representations and sensations.

“Take a moment to think. Think about walking in a forest of pine trees. The trees tower above you, rising up on every side. You see the flowers all around. The sun makes leafy shadows on the floor. You walk through a patch of sunlight. As you walk you become aware of the stillness, broken only by the birds calling and the crunching sound of your feet on debris on the forest floor. There is the occasional crack as you snap a dried twig. You reach out and touch a tree’s bark, feeling the roughness. You gradually become aware of a gentle breeze stroking your face and notice the aromatic smell of pine. Wandering on you remember that supper will be ready soon. You can smell the wood fire heating your favourite meal”.

To make sense of the above you went through those experiences in your mind. We use senses internally to represent the experience that was conjured up by the words. You probably created a strong enough reproduction to imagine the taste of food. If you have ever walked in a forest, you may have remembered the occasion. If you have not, you may have constructed the experience from other similar experiences, paintings, films, books and television programmes. Typically, much of your thinking is a mixture of remembered and constructed images.

We use the same neurological pathways to represent experience inwardly as when we experience it directly. Thought has direct physiological effects. Take a moment to imagine eating your favourite fruit – smell it, taste it, feel it, look at it.

The fruit may be imaginary, but the salivation is not!

Visual ) We use all three of the primary systems although we are not
Kinaesthetic ) Equally aware of them all and we tend to favour one or more.
Auditory ) These may not be exclusive.

You can tell often which one someone uses by listening to their choice of language. What would you say these statements tell you about the other person;

“I can see how that would work.”
“Look, hear me out on this one.”
“Let’s touch base later on today.”

Even if they are describing the same event e.g. when they are not sure what you are saying;

“That’s a bit hazy for me”
“That doesn’t ring any bells for me”
“I’m not sure I’m following you on this one”

The more someone is absorbed in their inner world the less they will know what is going on around them. Individuals experiencing strong inner emotions are also less vulnerable to external pain. We all know the phrase ‘laughter is the greatest healer’.

Preferred Representational Systems

We are able to use them all and by the age of eleven or twelve we already have preferences. No system is better, in an absolute sense, than another but we all have a preferred mode which acts as a fast track for communication and understanding.

Language and Representational Systems

We use language to communicate our thoughts, so it is not surprising that the words we use reflect the way we think.

It is possible to find out the preferred system of a writer, by analysing the words he/she uses. You may like to become aware over the coming weeks what sort of words you favour and listen to others.

You are more likely to gain rapport with a person who thinks in the same way. It’s good to use a good mix of predicates when addressing a group as this will enhance your chances of building rapport and opening the lines of communication.

Using this strategy for yourself

Be aware of the preferred systems of those around you. This is worthwhile and can be very helpful in stopping us jumping in with both feet. Communicating the way we assume everyone else does and using our own preferred communication style leads to difficulties getting the message across. However, for ourselves, it is useful to consider what is the ‘code’ we prefer and smartly use it to help in many ways, such as setting goals. For example, if you are visual – see yourself achieving the goal, if you are kinaesthetic – imaging the feeling you have achieved, if you are auditory – imagine the words you would hear when you have achieved the goal.

Even better still use all three and in your preferred order. In this way researchers tell us we are more likely to programme our brain and achieve the goal! This technique is used to great effect in our Positive Thinking and Goal Setting courses.

The power of humour

Research suggests that laughter increases the body’s level of endorphins. These can in fact ‘ease pain’ and help improve resistance to disease. Norman Cousins, a man crippled with disease, became famous for laughing himself back to good health. He did this by surrounding himself with comedy films, books and magazines. In fact it has been proven that one night of comedy will reduce your stress levels and aid relaxation. Humour also breaks patterns by changing your internal representation and physiology (smiling and change diaphragm movements).

Humour is also an excellent stress barometer. Research identifies an increase in cognitive powers, such as creative thinking, when humour is used. Smiling is another ‘state changer’ as it requires movement and fewer muscles than to frown, thereby improving blood flow to surrounding organs such as the brain.

When was the last time you

  • cracked a joke?
  • laughed at yourself?
  • went to see a comedy?
  • did something just for fun?